What Is Obstetric Negligence?

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 What Is Obstetric Negligence?

The word “obstetrics” refers to medical care that is related to pregnancy and childbirth. Obstetrics includes all of the medical care from the time when a woman is pregnant to all of the processes leading up to and including the event of childbirth. As such, the term “obstetric negligence” refers to instances of negligence by an obstetrician or other physician that is related to a patient’s obstetric care.

The term negligence refers to a legal theory that allows an injured person to recover for the carelessness or negligent acts of others. In general, a person is considered negligent if they are careless given the circumstances of the situation. In the case of obstetric negligence, that typically means an obstetrician, gynecologist, or medical care facility committing medical malpractice.

Obstetricians, gynecologists, and medical care facilities are all responsible for a woman’s reproductive health and obstetric care. Examples of responsibilities by obstetricians and gynecologists include monitoring the health of an unborn child, monitoring the health of the woman carrying a child, and all processes concerning caring for a baby up until the time of delivery or birth. As such, there are numerous ways in which a physician, surgeon, nurse, or hospital staff may commit obstetric negligence.

Examples of common cases of obstetric negligence generally involve mismanagement of a patient or unborn child’s health, failure to supervise or monitor, or a negligent act done during a specific procedure. Improper diagnoses may also result in injuries to a patient.

What Counts as Obstetric Negligence?

In order for a person to recover for injuries that resulted from negligence, they must prove the following four elements:

  1. Duty: First, the person who was injured must show that they were owed a duty of care.
    • A duty is the responsibility that one person owes to another. Reasonable care is the level of care that an ordinary and prudent person would use in the same situation. In the case of physicians, reasonable care is how a similarly licensed and educated person would have acted in the situation;
  2. Breach: Next, the injured party must show that a breach of the duty owed to them occurred.
    • A breach occurs when a person’s care falls below the level that is required by their duty;
  3. Causation: Next, the injured party must prove that the breach of the duty was the cause of their injury.
    • Generally, the legal test for causation states that ‘but for’ one party’s actions, the injury would not have occurred;
  4. Damages: Finally, the injured party must demonstrate that they suffered some quantifiable damages.
    • This means that there must be some sort of quantifiable harm that occurred. In the case of obstetric negligence, this will likely include medical bills, emotional damages, or, in some gross negligence cases, punitive damages.

As mentioned above, obstetric care often involves many different aspects of an individual’s medical care and treatment. As such, there are many ways in which obstetric negligence may occur. Examples of common forms of obstetric negligence include:

  • Administering an incorrect medication or performing the wrong treatment during an individual’s pregnancy care;
  • Providing the wrong advice or incorrect medical treatment regarding a woman’s gynecological care, such as gestational diabetes;
  • Various types of medical misdiagnosis during the period of a woman’s pregnancy or childbirth;
  • Medical errors that result in a premature birth occurring, which may result in an increased risk of harm to the mother or child;
  • Medical errors that result in birth injuries or birth defects;
  • A negligent act that occurs during labor, such as negligence with regard to anesthesia or monitor equipment;
  • A negligent surgical act, such as an improperly performed Cesarean section operation; and/or
  • Other special cases involving a woman’s obstetric care, such as a negligent act or misdiagnosis that results in a wrongful conception or birth.

Once again, whether or not a medical professional can actually be held liable for a patient’s injuries will largely depend on the facts of the specific case. It will also depend on the medical malpractice laws that are enacted in the state in which the harm occurred. Further, the standards and regulations for medical malpractice can even vary between different jurisdictions within the same state.

As such, it is advised that if you believe you have sustained injuries due to obstetric negligence, you should consult with a local obstetrical malpractice attorney in order to know which specific negligence and malpractice laws apply in your case. This includes pregnancy malpractice cases or any other form of medical negligence during pregnancy.

Are There Any Legal Penalties for Obstetric Negligence?

In short, yes, there are many legal penalties for a physician, nurse, hospital staff, or medical facility that commits obstetric negligence. Once again, in order to establish an obstetrician’s liability for committing obstetric negligence, the plaintiff (i.e., the patient who was allegedly injured) must demonstrate:

  • That the obstetrician owed them a duty of professional care;
  • That the obstetrician breached the duty of professional care that was owed to the plaintiff;
  • That the breach of duty was the act that led to them suffering damages; and
  • That they suffered actual quantifiable damages.

In the case of obstetric negligence or medical malpractice cases, an expert witness is often required to demonstrate that the medical professional fell below their duty of professional care. Experts in obstetric error cases are typically board-certified OB-GYNS or related medical professionals who can evaluate the circumstances of your specific case and offer expert opinions about what a reasonable obstetrician would have done under the same or similar circumstances.

If a plaintiff is able to prove their obstetric negligence claim, then they will be able to present a damages claim to the court to recover for their injuries. Damages for obstetric errors are usually compensatory damages that are intended to make a plaintiff whole or put them back in the position they would have been had the negligent act(s) not occurred.

Compensatory damages can include both economic and non-economic losses. Examples of common damages in medical malpractice or obstetric negligence claims can include any of the following:

  • Economic Damages: Economic damages are monetary amounts that can be measured and specifically calculated based on a particular harm.
    • Economic damages commonly include medical expenses, hospital bills, lost wages, and/or loss of earning capacity;
  • Non-Economic Damages: Non-economic damages are monetary amounts that are more difficult to calculate, as they are intangible or somewhat immeasurable injuries.
    • Examples of common non-economic damages include a patient’s pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of activities, or loss of consortium;
  • Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are rarely awarded in medical malpractice or obstetric negligence claims.
    • Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant in an effort to discourage the repetition of their actions. These damages will be discussed in further detail below.

Examples of other common remedies that a plaintiff may request in an obstetric negligence include having a medical professional’s license suspended or revoked or requiring that a medical facility update its policies and/or health and safety procedures in order to continue to remain in operation.

Other commonly awarded damages are a patient’s out-of-pocket costs, therapy costs, or the cost of medical equipment needed to recover from the injuries suffered from the obstetric negligence. In some cases, the obstetric error may result in fatal birth injuries for a newborn or a maternal death. In these cases, the plaintiff or the personal representative of the estate may be able to recover damages for wrongful death.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With an Obstetric Negligence Legal Claim?

As can be seen, obstetric negligence cases can involve serious injuries. If you believe that you have suffered an injury as a result of obstetric negligence, then it is in your best interests to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

An experienced personal injury attorney who handles medical malpractice cases can help advise you as to your best course of legal action. An attorney can also initiate a civil lawsuit against the party responsible for your damages on your behalf and assist you in building a strong case. Additionally, an attorney can also help you prove the necessary elements in a civil lawsuit, including helping you secure the testimony of an expert witness. An attorney can also help negotiate with the malpractice insurance carriers for the party responsible for your injuries. Finally, an attorney can also represent your interests in court, as needed.

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